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Stone v. Jesson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 17, 2017

Charles Richard Stone, Plaintiff,
Lucinda E. Jesson, individually and in her official capacity as Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services, et al., Defendants.


          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         In this lawsuit, Plaintiff Charles R. Stone challenges policies of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”) and actions of the Defendants that restrict his and other MSOP clients' possession of certain media items. Currently before the Court are the July 15, 2016 Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Janie S. Mayeron, [1] (Dkt. 36), and the parties' objections to the R&R, (Dkts. 41, 44).[2] Also before the Court is a motion filed by Stone after the R&R was issued that seeks to prevent other MSOP clients from filing documents in this lawsuit. (Dkt. 42.) For the reasons addressed below, the parties' objections are overruled in part and sustained in part, the R&R is adopted in part and rejected in part, and Stone's motion to enjoin other MSOP clients from filing documents in this case is denied.


         Stone, who is civilly committed to MSOP in Moose Lake, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against seven state officials and MSOP employees individually and in their official capacities. Defendants are Lucinda E. Jesson, Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services; Dennis L. Benson, Executive Director of MSOP; Thomas Lundquist, Clinical Director of MSOP in Moose Lake, Minnesota; Greg Carlson, Assistant Executive Director of MSOP; Kevin Moser, Program Director of MSOP; David Prescott, former Clinical Director of MSOP; and Robert D. Liggett, Media Review Team Supervisor of MSOP. Stone's complaint asserts two counts against these individuals. Count One alleges that Minn. Stat. § 246B.04, subd. 2, is unconstitutional, both facially and as-applied to Stone. Count Two alleges that Defendants' failure to apply MSOP's 2007 Media Policy (the “Media Policy”) violates Stone's rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Stone also alleges that certain MSOP employees have interfered with his right to access the courts to redress violations of his constitutional rights.

         Stone's allegations focus on Defendants' failure to apply the Media Policy. Stone asserts that MSOP's Media Review Team has erroneously categorized as “prohibited” under the Media Policy certain media that should be permitted. Stone also alleges that the Media Review Team reviews all media arriving at MSOP and restricts the access of MSOP clients to magazines and certain movies rated “G, ” “PG, ” and “PG-13, ” despite a provision in the Media Policy that categorizes such movies as “permitted” without being subject to individual review. These procedures, Stone asserts, not only are inconsistent with the Media Policy, but they also impermissibly restrict MSOP clients' First Amendment right to access materials that have been improperly categorized as prohibited.

         Defendants moved to dismiss Stone's complaint and advanced several arguments, including that Defendants Jesson and Prescott were not properly served, that Defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from Stone's claims for damages against them in their official capacities and qualified immunity from his claims against them in their individual capacities. Defendants also argue that Stone's allegations fail to state a claim on which relief can be granted as to any legal theory asserted in the complaint.

         Stone subsequently filed two additional motions that are unrelated to the merits of his complaint. Stone's motion for a permanent injunction seeks to enjoin Defendants from tampering with, holding, opening or investigating Stone's mail pertaining to his legal proceedings. That motion also seeks to enjoin Defendants from retaliating against Stone for initiating this lawsuit. And in his “Motion to Dismiss Defendant's [sic] [M]otion to Dismiss, ” Stone argues that the Court should strike Defendants' motion to dismiss because Defendants had not timely served Stone with their motion papers. Stone characterizes Defendants' act of filing their motion to dismiss without serving him as an ex parte communication with the Court.

         United States Magistrate Judge Janie S. Mayeron issued an R&R on July 15, 2016.[3] The R&R recommends dismissing most of Stone's claims without prejudice. However, the R&R concludes that Stone's Section 1983 claims against Defendants Liggett and Moser for violating Stone's First Amendment rights should be permitted to proceed. The R&R also recommends denying Stone's motion for a permanent injunction and motion to dismiss Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         All parties filed objections. Defendants object to the R&R to the extent it recommends that Stone's Section 1983 claims based on the First Amendment should be permitted to proceed against Liggett and Moser and concludes that Liggett and Moser are not entitled to qualified immunity. Stone's objections track the structure of the R&R and address each section of its analysis, but Stone concedes that several of the R&R's conclusions are correct. Although in many respects Stone's arguments are difficult to follow, he clearly objects to two of the R&R's conclusions: (1) that his claims for prospective injunctive relief against Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed and (2) that the complaint fails to state a claim for violation of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Since the R&R was issued, Stone also has filed a “Motion to Enjoin Other Parties from [Filing] on Suit Without First Obtaining Permission from Court or from Plaintiff Charles R. Stone Exclusively.” In that motion, Stone seeks an order prohibiting other MSOP clients from filing motions or other documents in this case because, Stone asserts, other MSOP clients are conspiring to dissuade him from pursuing this litigation or are seeking to maintain this lawsuit under their own names.


         I. Defendants' Objections to the R&R

         Defendants' objections to the R&R are twofold. First, Defendants object to the recommendation to deny their motion to dismiss as to Stone's claims against Liggett and Moser both in their official capacities for prospective injunctive relief and in their individual capacities. Second, Defendants object to the recommendation to conclude that Liggett and Moser are not entitled to qualified immunity. The Court reviews each legal issue de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); LR 72.2(b)(3); Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam).

         A. First Amendment Claims Against Defendants Liggett and Moser

         The R&R concludes that Stone's allegations are sufficient to state a Section 1983 claim that his First Amendment rights are being violated by Defendants Liggett and Moser and Defendants have not established as a matter of law that their actions through MSOP are consistent with the First Amendment.

         To state a claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege “(1) that the defendant acted under color of state law, and (2) that the alleged conduct deprived the plaintiff of a constitutionally protected federal right.” Van Zee v. Hanson, 630 F.3d 1126, 1128 (8th Cir. 2011). Here, because Defendants do not dispute that their actions at MSOP are taken under color of state law, the only question is whether Defendants' alleged conduct in restricting Stone's access to certain media deprives Stone of a constitutionally protected federal right. Stone alleges that Defendants have “prohibit[ed] protected speech” by failing to properly apply the Media Policy.

         “The right of freedom of speech ‘includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read' as well as ‘freedom of inquiry' and ‘freedom of thought.' ” Karsjens v. Jesson, 6 F.Supp.3d 916, 938-39 (D. Minn. 2014) (quoting Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482 (1965)). Civilly committed individuals have liberty interests that are “considerably less than those held by members of free society, ” but they are nonetheless “entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement” than prisoners. Senty-Haugen v. Goodno, 462 F.3d 876, 886 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Revels v. Vincenz, 382 F.3d 870, 874 (8th Cir. 2004) (“Although an involuntarily committed patient of a state hospital is not a prisoner per se, his confinement is subject to the same safety and security concerns as that of a prisoner.”). In Turner v. Safley, the Supreme Court of the United States explained that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

         When addressing the constitutionality of limitations placed on the rights of MSOP patients, courts in this District have employed a modified Turner analysis. See Karsjens, 6 F.Supp.3d at 937 (evaluating MSOP patient's First Amendment claims “in light of appropriate therapeutic interests as well as relevant safety and security concerns”); Ivey v. Mooney, No. 05-2666, 2008 WL 4527792, at *5 (D. Minn. Sept. 30, 2008) (approving application of Turner factors to determine whether the Media Policy “is reasonably related to legitimate institutional and therapeutic interests”). To determine whether a restriction on MSOP patients' liberty is constitutional, four Turner factors are considered:

(1) whether there is a valid rational connection between the regulation and the legitimate government interest it purports to further; (2) whether the inmate has an alternative means of exercising his constitutional right; (3) the impact that accommodation of the inmate's right would have upon others, including inmates as well as non-inmates; and (4) the absence of a ready alternative to the regulation.

Ivey, 2008 WL 4527792, at *5 (quoting Ortiz v. Fort Dodge Corr. Facility, 368 F.3d 1024, 1026 (8th Cir. 2004)). It is the plaintiff's burden to prove that a restriction is not reasonably related to the legitimate interest it purports to further. See Abdullah v. Gunter, 949 F.2d 1032, 1035 (8th Cir. 1991) (applying Turner).

         The magistrate judge concluded that the record at this stage does not support a determination that Stone's claims fail as a matter of law under the Turner test. Defendants object to this aspect of the R&R's analysis, arguing that the magistrate judge “incorrectly interprets the Rule 12(b)(6) standard as requiring factual information sufficient to support an ultimate holding in Defendants' favor.” It is true that the R&R misstates the Rule 12(b)(6) legal standard when stating that “there are fact disputes about the very essence of plaintiff's claims.” This is the summary judgment standard rather than the motion to dismiss standard. But the Court agrees with the magistrate judge's conclusion that Stone's allegations are sufficient to state a claim that his First Amendment rights are being violated.

         Stone has stated a claim for relief as to whether Defendants' implementation of the Media Policy restricts MSOP patients' rights to access certain media in a manner that can pass constitutional muster. To prevail on the merits, Stone must present evidence and legal argument that demonstrate that Defendants' restrictions on his access to media materials are inconsistent with the Turner test described above. But Stone's allegations that Defendants' conduct impermissibly restricts his First Amendment rights are sufficient to state a claim for relief under Section 1983 and survive a motion to dismiss.

         Defendants rely heavily on Banks v. Jesson, in which the court addressed a plaintiff's Section 1983 claim that MSOP's confiscation of certain media items violated his First Amendment rights. No. 11-cv-1706, 2016 WL 3566207 (D. Minn. June 27, 2016). But the procedural posture of the Banks decision offers a meaningful distinction. Because Banks was at the summary judgment stage, the court had a fully developed record on which to assess Banks' claims. Here, the magistrate judge expressly-and correctly-distinguished Banks, explaining that because this case is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss, there is no record on which to conduct a Turner analysis.

         Because Stone's allegations, when taken as true for this analysis, are sufficient to state a claim that Defendants' implementation of the Media Policy and the actions of the Media Review Team violate his First Amendment right to receive and consume media, Defendants' objection to the R&R ...

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